‘Tonight at 8.30’ is a set of one-act plays by Noël Coward, traditionally presented on the stage in sets of three, numbering nine in total.
In 1991 Joan Collins and her ad hoc company presented eight of the nine playlets (omitting ‘We Were Dancing’), with fairly successful results. Joanie appeared in all eight, with various guests appearing in individual plays.
In ‘Still Life’ (which when expanded by Coward became ‘Brief Encounter’), Alec – a slightly miscast John Alderton, and Laura – a rather glamourous Jane Asher, play through their doomed romance in the railway waiting room. Norman Rossington is no substitute for Stanley Holloway as Albert, and his flirting with Myrtle (Collins) is a bit unconvincing. Still, this is good fun.
‘Shadow Play’ has Collins playing Vicky, who fears she is to be deserted by her beau (Simon Williams), leading her to uneasy dreams. Williams at this point was still well-remembered for his role in ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ and he plays the toff to the hilt.
‘Ways and Means’ has a couple plagued by a burglar – Collins and John Standing are the couple, and their friends include Miriam Margoyles, Sian Phillips and Tony Slattery. Not all are suited to the clipped Coward style.
‘Fumed Oak’, one of two plays here to team Collins with her former husband, Anthony Newley, is my favourite of the set. It’s a bleak little comedy which also boasts a knowing performance from the great Joan Sims.
In ‘Family Album’, Coward throws family secrets into a sizzling pot when a group gather together. Alderton reappears, this time as the butler, while Bonnie Langford, Dominic Jephcott and Denis Quilley try valiantly against the odds to make this work. Collins, however, is out of her depth.
‘The Astonished Heart’ (later expanded and filmed with Coward himself in the lead) is about infidelity, and this time a third appearance from Alderton is too much – as the ‘old friend’ Collins is awful as well. My least favourite of the group.
Collins and Newley reappear in ‘Red Peppers’, a musical comedy about a battling music hall act who are married in real life. A total delight, which also features Reg Varney and Henry McGee.
Finally, ‘Hands Across The Sea’ is about mores, manners, and unwanted guests (in this case, Bernard Cribbins and Miriam Margoyles). It’s funny enough to stand up to repeat viewings, and in this case Collins is well cast, alongside John Nettles.